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Oracle Ships Collaboration Suite 2 With iMeeting But Not Instant Messaging

Oracle Collaboration Suite Release 2 officially hit the streets today without instant messaging, but that realtime feature will be delivered in yet another upgrade during the first half of 2004, Oracle executives said.

Instant messaging and "presence awareness"--a more sophisticated list that conveys the online/offline realtime status of users from within business applications--are missing from this version.

Presence awareness and instant messaging are "a key focus for the next release," said Sunir Kapoor, vice president of Oracle Collaboration Suite at Oracle. "We've been working on it for some time."

Release 3 is scheduled to debut in the first half of next year, Oracle executives said.

Nevertheless, the company's first upgrade to its new collaboration suite will offer half of the realtime communications product equation--a Web conferencing capability called Oracle Web Conferencing.

That feature--which enables companies to reduce operating expenses and speed up business processes, features document presentation and sharing, co-browsing, white-boarding, chat, voice streaming and secure storage and playback of Web conferences, Oracle executives said.

In addition, given its use of the company's flagship database for collaboration services, Collaboration Suite 2 offers custom workflow support across Oracle Files. The product ships, for example, with pre-built approval workflows, a differentiator from other collaboration offerings on the market, company executives say.

Like the first release, the upgrade allows users to use the Microsoft Outlook client to the collaboration services. It offers a new flashback recovery that allows Outlook users to recover deleted messages without an administrator. It also features enhanced resource scheduling and a standard-based SyncML server for Oracle Calendar that supports mobile devices.

The upgrade also offers directory enhancements for Oracle Voicemail, plus integration that allows users to configure their voice mail through Outlook.

The Oracle Collaboration Suite was first announced in July of last year and shipped in September 2002. Version 1 featured e-mail, voice-mail, calendar, files and search capabilities. The addition of Oracle Web Conferencing and other collaboration services in release 2 will allow developers and end users to conduct realtime meetings and team work from within their familiar desktop and enterprise applications, executives said.

While competitive offerings from Microsoft and Lotus incorporate IM and presence awareness today, Oracle's collaboration suite offers unique advantages such as perpetual, low cost-per-user pricing and use of a common relational database for storage--efforts Lotus and Microsoft are trying to duplicate, Kapoor said. IBM is re-engineering its collaboration services to run on DB2 as well as Notes NFS, and Microsoft plans a common Yukon storage repository for all of its file, e-mail, collaboration and Web services.

Oracle charges a onetime named user fee of $60 for the entire suite, or $15 for an annual license per user. Pricing includes the Collaboration Suite but only limited run-time licenses for Oracle 9i database and Oracle 9i Application Server.

Oracle also offers a la carte pricing for the Web conferencing feature. For instance, users can license this feature separately for $45 per named user. And the Web conference license is only required for the initiator of the Oracle Web Conferencing, not for each participant, company executives said. Users can also license the e-mail and calendaring separately for $45 per named user.

Oracle claims to have 500 paying customers for its collaboration suite, many of whom are existing Oracle database users.

One systems integrator acknowledges that Microsoft and Lotus are leaders in the asynchronous e-mail communications market, but said he believes Oracle has a fighting chance in the fragmented realtime collaboration space because of the database scalability, pricing and integration benefits.

"It's a tough battle, but those in the market, especially large enterprises, that think Oracle are more likely to consider it," said Norm Weisinger, vice president at BearingPoint, a systems integrator in Mclean, Va. "Microsoft is trying to scale their database products, but Oracle's argument is that they have it now. Oracle is also a player in the web conferencing market and is trying to get customers to buy products from a single vendor and reduce the risk elements of integration."

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